Five Conspiracy Movies. Or Are They?

Folks, I haven't much time. I'm frantically typing this from under my kitchen table and I better be quick as they are starting to close in. I don't know how they tracked me down, but somehow they did. My friend Jim Corr is out the front creating a diversion with a controversial Powerpoint presentation about 9/11 to buy me some valuable time, so I'll file this post in the hope that some day the world will know the truth. Now I know how the lads in the following films feel.

The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962) stars Frank Sinatra as a Korean War veteran who starts to suspect his platoon was the subject of brainwashing experiments during the war, with one of them now primed as a sleeper agent back in the US. One of the earliest consipracy thrillers and particularly notable for the inventive and beautifully edited brainwashing demonstration sequences. It does sag a bit in the middle with Janet Leigh's odd role either irrelevant or unexplained, depending on your viewpoint, but good performances and a nail-biting finale make up for that. Interestingly, it also ended up linked to the JFK assassination a year later, with one of the popular theories about Lee Harvey Oswald being that he too was a sleeper agent, a theory that gathered steam when Sinatra bought the rights to the film soon after the assassination and refused to let it be shown for over 20 years. Turned out he just fell out with the studio about money and this was his revenge. A remarkably stupid revenge, since it stopped people seeing his best (some would say his only good) acting performance. Or maybe that's just what they want you to believe...

It was the 70s when people really jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon, hungry for such stories in the wake of scandals and suspicions surrounding US government activities in Vietnam, Watergate and possibly even the Kennedy/King assassinations. The Parallax View (Alan J Pakula, 1974) gave them what they wanted, an edgy thriller about a journalist investigating the shadowy Parallax Corporation, who he suspects have a hand in some political assassinations. It's solid fare, with with an excellent central performance from Warren Beatty as the reporter who turns out to be not quite as smart as he thinks he is and it builds to a suitably downbeat conclusion. Plus the Parallax 'testing' montage is still an astonishingly effective and uncomfortable piece of film editing.

In 3 Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, 1975) Robert Redford plays a CIA employee who pops out for lunch one day and returns to find all his colleagues murdered. So he goes on the run and quickly finds out he can't trust anybody as he tries to figure out why people want him dead. It's a solid enough cat-and-mouse thriller with enough going on to be entertaining even when the whole thing threatens to get a bit silly and far-fetched. Redford's golden hair is truly a thing of wonder, though. Maybe the people after him were just jealous.
In The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974), quiet surveillance expert Harry Caul (brilliantly played by Gene Hackman) becomes dangerously obsessed with an audio recording he has made during his work. It's a sort of homage to Antonioni's Blow-Up, but this is a more focused character study of an increasingly paranoid loner and seems more relevant than ever in today's world where our everyday privacy is under threat from various surveillance methods. Make sure there's no crying babies or jackhammers in the vicinity when you watch this, as the superbly edited soundscape of this film is integral to the plot.

"So, I'd like to meet this Deep Throat.
What's she like?"
All The President's Men (Alan J Pakula, 1976) shouldn't really work as a conspiracy thriller, since we all know the outcome in the first place and since it involves little more than people typing or talking on phones about committees and campaign contributions. But it does work, brilliantly, as we are guided through the complicated journalistic investigation by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), as they gradually make the connections between the Watergate burglary and the corridors of power in the White House. Redford and Hoffman were already stars at this stage, but both realised, as did Pakula and writer William Goldman, that this was too important a story to be overshadowed by Hollywood excesses and the film refuses to embellish the tale with fictional love interests or car chases or shoot-outs. Thus, its power rests in the slow drip-feed of information and facts, which credits the viewer with the intelligence to follow the detective trail alongside the reporters and therefore join in their satisfaction as we finally join the dots along with them. Fascinating and enthralling stuff, and all the more so for having really happened.

That's it. I hear Jim wrapping up outside and stalling for time with an impromptu rendition of 'Runaway'. Now, hopefully this mobile modem will upload fast. I still can't understand how they found me and Jim. Unless........Jim? No! I don't believe it! I can't! Not Jim! Unless he's pissed about that time I slept with his sister. Or, come to think of it, all three sisters. Together. But he wouldn't betray me for that. Would he? Or wou----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Reader, we would strongly encourage you to ignore the post above, which contained the rambling thoughts of a sadly deluded individual who believes people actually care what he thinks. He has been removed to a secure location for 'treatment'. Jim Corr, on the other hand, we have decided to release (again), just for the laugh.

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